Millions of adults in the UK are being asked to join a study to collect health and genetic information to identify new ways to prevent, detect and treat disease.
Researchers will be looking to develop and test genetic risk scores for potential use in screening programmes, and for earlier detection and targeted treatments of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and stroke.
In the next few weeks, 3 million people aged over 18 years and living in West Yorkshire, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Greater London will be sent letters inviting them to take part in the Our Future Health programme.
The study is expected to be the country’s largest ever research programme and is a collaboration between the NHS, charities and the private sector. It is backed by £80m in government funding and around £150m from industry.
Over time, the research will be open across the UK and aims to recruit 5 million individuals who will provide blood samples for DNA analysis and other health data.
Participants will be able to do this at a number of Boots pharmacies, as well as pop-up and mobile clinics.
Volunteers will have the option to have feedback about their health, risk of common diseases and results of tests such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
Those leading the study said they wanted volunteers to truly reflect the diversity in the UK population and address traditional under-representation in health research of people from black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds, as well as those with lower incomes.
NHS DigiTrials will be recruiting volunteers who will be asked to provide secure access to their health records, complete a questionnaire, and book an appointment to provide a small blood sample and have some physical measurements taken.
Raghib Ali, chief medical officer of Our Future Health, said in a press release: “Today, millions of people spend many years of their life in poor health and too often we are only able treat diseases when our patients start showing symptoms.
“With the help of up to 5 million people, we’ll be able to dramatically improve our understanding of how to detect and prevent diseases, so in the future, everyone can live in good health for longer.”
Chris MacDonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, which is supporting the research, added: “Information collected through this exciting initiative will provide valuable insight into the health of the nation over time, enabling us to learn more about a wide range of diseases, including pancreatic cancer, and study the signals present in blood samples even many years before diagnosis.”